- Bible Reading: Exodus 16:1-18
- Free Resource: God Gives Gifts from Above (Cross+Gen Education, NL)
- Unit Theme (September 12—October 10): God Provides Blessings
- The Point: God sends blessings even when people complain and grumble.
Complaining about the lack of food, the people of Israel are blessed with bread from heaven. This gift reminds us that God gives us what we need as we journey through life.
Bread and Birds
The people of Israel are not even two months into their journey to the Promised Land and they already wish they had never left. The hunger for consistent food reminds them of the food readily available to them in their slavery. However, their wish forgets the pain and oppression of the slave labor that came with that food. Still, hunger is a legitimate complaint, and it does not go unheard by Moses, Aaron, and, of course, God.
In response to the complaint, God provides food in their wilderness. Bread and quail appear regularly in the amounts needed for people to feed their families and sustain themselves on their trek. This is likely not the response the people wanted—they probably expected immediate deliverance—but it was a response.
Wandering and Wondering in Place
For so many people, communities, and churches, we may feel like we are constantly wandering through the wilderness as the world continues to shift around us. In many of our churches and communities, the language of “the good old days,” “if only…” and “we used to…” flutter up in conversation, planning, and even worship and teaching.
The question we need to ask is not how to do we go back to the time “before” (or escape the uncomfortable space in some other way), but what is the bread we need for the current journey, wherever it may lead? Listen to the complaints. These complaints come from grief, anxiety, fear, or expectation. Just as God listens to the complaints and meets the need without giving in to the grumbling, this scripture reminds us not to fall prey to the urge to give up on traveling alongside God and each other.
Bread from Our Story
Bible scholars tell us that this scripture story was written down for the people of Israel during the Babylonian exile. The Babylonian Empire had invaded and forced the people from their homes and into a strange place among their captors. This story itself becomes bread for the journey, for a people taken from their family, homeland, and much of their heritage. God uses the people’s story to serve as a reminder that God provides even in slavery, bondage, and wilderness.
What God provides may not be exactly what they want, but it is a blessing that moves the people toward what God wants. People need these reminders that God has blessed them even if the blessing were not what they wanted or expected. In fact, they may not even identify these as blessings at all. These reminders can come through shared stories, practices, and relationships.
We need to experience the stories of those who have been in similar wildernesses. Support groups and mentoring relationships exist for many of these desert-like experiences. Whether addiction, cancer, grief, or another life experience, group and one-on-one sharing can greatly help with the process.
Sharing Bread on the Journey
This scripture provides the chance for people to share stories and experiences where God blesses them in their wilderness. There are many ways we can explore this scripture in the faith formation experiences in our communities, here are three suggestions:
During worship or small groups, have people (planned or spontaneous) share the times God has blessed in them in the middle of tough times. These blessings do not have to be huge, as sometimes the little things like a few pieces of bread are all we need to remind us that God is with us. As you lead, make sure to provide space for children and youth to participate. This might include the leaders intentionally creating space for children and youth to share their stories without judgment. This may also include a wondering period, in which a leader—or even a youth or child—asks the group “I wonder how God was working in their story?” Or “Where do you see the blessings in the story?”
The story of the manna and quail reminded the people of Israel of God’s blessing and power while they were in exile. We can use this story to remind us of God’s blessing and power in our lives during times of struggle. Create a space for people to connect stories of their personal experience to God’s blessing, connecting as many stories as they can back to Scripture. This may be done through sharing in small groups, creating art, exploring music, or acting out the experiences and stories. One way to make this an intergenerational experience is pairing people from different generations who are comfortable with one another and having them tell each other their stories and have their partner creatively depict the story. In any artistic setting, it is important to remind people that they are creative. We are not looking for Picasso or Mozart, we are looking for them.
Imagining New Bread
Encourage individuals or groups to imagine the bread they need for the journey, the small but necessary blessings that can get them through the times of struggle. Then, allow them to explore how—with God’s help—the community can provide that bread for each other. This might be done in the form of a game such as “I’m going on a picnic” in which each person has to remember all the items before them, but instead, people share their journey and what blessings they imagine. Activities like this can be done with any age group, and you can even add a liturgical element, such as following up every three blessings with a group response “God please bless us” or “God, be with us.”
Even through our complaining, God hears us and offers us a response. We know the realities of life are often hard, complicated, and painful, but we know we are part of a greater story that is leading toward God’s hope. Part of our role as people of faith is to remind each other and share the good news that God offers these gifts free of charge.
Jonathan LeMaster-Smith lives with his wife, Shannon, in Hildebran, North Carolina (District 12 of The Hunger Games movies). He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with a focus on Rural Ministry and Methodist Studies. His work includes presentations on Dolly Parton, articles on ditch lilies, and musings about the genius of mayonnaise.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “God Gives Gifts from Above” from our intergenerational classroom curriculum Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) designed to be used in intergenerational faith formation!